Beloved Strangerby Clare Boylan
This darkly comic incident marks Dick
After fifty years of marriage in the same Dublin suburb, Dick and Lily Butler enjoy a "safe" life of compromise, of small and loving concessions to each other. Then one night their happy, balanced world is upended forever, when Lily wakes to find Dick under the bed, holding a shotgun, convinced there's an intruder in the house.
This darkly comic incident marks Dick's terrifying plunge into insanity, his freefall into a world of imaginary enemies and sexual fantasies. For Lily, an old-fashioned wife who has accepted her partner for better or worse, there is nowhere to turn. Now, for the first time, she finds herself unable to follow where her husband leads and is utterly disoriented by this freedom. She is forced to confront the rock face of marriage; having been bound together, she and Dick are now marooned together.
Part thriller, part love story, part macabre comedy, Beloved Stranger is also an analysis of marriage at the end of the millenniuma changeless institution in a vastly altered world.
About the Author
Calre Boylan is the author of six novels and three collections of short stories. She lives outside Dublin, Ireland.
The New York Times
- Counterpoint Press
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- 4.98(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.90(d)
Read an Excerpt
In September, Mr and Mrs Butler discovered broccoli. Lily already had carrots in her bag. She hated carrots but they went with everything.
`What's that?' Dick peered at the green sprigs which had been arranged upright in a wooden box. The stout stems seemed full of sap, the mossy heads chaste and secretive. He thought it resembled a virgin forest.
`It's broccoli.' Lily had seen pictures of it in magazines. `It's supposed to be good for you.'
`Would we try some?' He eased out a sprig. `One piece each or two? Maybe it will be disappointing. Just the two?'
They asked the girl at the counter how you cooked broccoli but she had never eaten it. She didn't like vegetables. On the way out Dick noticed that Lily was limping slightly.
`All right, love? Feet at you?'
`It's that toenail.'
`Take my arm.'
`Ruth's coming tomorrow.' She slipped her hand into his tweeded elbow. `She'll know how to cook broccoli. We'll have the carrots today.'
`Ruth will make your head spin with ways to cook broccoli.'
`You know, Dick, it's an awful thing to say but I sometimes wish Ruth didn't know so much. I can never surprise her.'
`You should have had two daughters.' He shifted the shopping bag containing chops, carrots and broccoli to his other arm and pulled his wife closer. `A smart one you could ring when you wanted to know something and a comfortable one with whom you could discuss what you hadlearnt.'
`Yes; that would be ideal,' Lily nodded solemnly. But then nothing in life was ideal. That was what poor Ruthie could never accept.
They fell silent, concentrating on the pavement which was polished with rain. The shopping streets, two miles north of the city, had moved from village to suburban to outer city shabby and now one or two of them were on the way up again. Every so often they threw up set changes to mark the decades. Sweeney's Sweets and Argosy Library was now Meteor Video, and Bertolli's chips and ice-cream had become a health food store. Years out of fashion had left the neighbourhood as sleepy as a rural village, but a fawn haze of urban pollution buffered their horizon, its smell of stout and of the River Liffey as familiar as the smell of a sleeping partner. All in all it was a good address, as Dick liked to say, although a shop which sold nothing but potatoes had always been a thorn in his side.
When they were first married they had been oppressed by the seriousness of their surroundings, the utility shops and red-bricked houses. Sometimes after they had completed an ordinary transaction like buying milk or a newspaper, they would stand on the pavement afterwards, helpless with laughter. They never had any sensible clothes in those days, not even umbrellas. Once, it had rained so hard they had to shelter in an entrance. Lily wondered if Dick remembered the warm rain making a curtain in the doorway, its pulpy percussion on the street. Her thin dress was slicked to her body, her hair painted to her forehead like wet autumn leaves. Freckles and rain drops glistened on her nose. He had begun to push her hair back from her face and then to kiss her. He pressed against her and she felt that part of him that could only be named in comic terms back then. He said he had to make love to her. Had to, had to. `Stop, Dick,' she said. `We'll soon be home,' but the rain poured down and the streets emptied. `No, Dick!' She tried to push him away. `It's not possible.' She had never said no convincingly and nothing was impossible until tights came in. He was normally a reserved man, but he was occasionally given to rash romantic gestures and was intoxicated by his new marriage. She could still remember the startling pain and heat as he pushed into her, her shocked eyes keeping watch over his shoulder. She had to steady him when someone passed. The man had glanced curiously into the doorway and she had met his eye, and even though he passed by quickly, she knew he knew. She didn't even feel ashamed and as the moment passed she was drawn under by a current of excitement. The rain sluiced over her, on to her eyelids, into her mouth. The harsh friction became an answer to her soft cries. That was the only time she been swept away in the way she read about in novels. She had not told Dick for they did not talk about it. She was soon to discover that he had a prudish side which emerged almost as a reaction to his emotional extravagances. The dress, a pattern of red flowers on white, had been ruined by the rain, as if made of paper.
When she became pregnant she had a craving for the curious flour-and-water taste of Bertolli's ice-cream and had sent Dick at four in the morning to bang on the door of the Italian. `My wife is expecting a baby' he explained. `She has cravings' The man's wife called down to know what he was doing and he shouted up: `I getta some ice cream for this lady. She having a baby. She half crazy.'
They came to their street, its sombre brick softened by lines of old trees, and to their tall, narrow house with the black railings gripped so close to its front that it seemed to exist behind a cage. They had lived on the same street, in the same house, for almost fifty years, and were such a familiar sight that people scarcely noticed them. The older residents, mostly living on their own, were aware of Dick and Lily, for they were good neighbours, not because they were sociable, but because they belonged to a time when neighbours looked out for one another. The younger ones laughed at Dick's ancient car rolling slow as a beetle down the street, and some of them had decided that the house wasn't worth ripping off. Otherwise no one bothered with them. Welfare workers observed with relief that they were mobile and independent and that each was in the care of the other. It was only these peripherals that would have caught their attention. That the old folks had any kind of existence within their outsized house would not have occurred to them at all.
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